Rey Parlá – Multiplicities @Benrubi

JTF (just the facts): A total 33 photographic and painted works, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space, behind the reception desk, in the back hallway, and in the smaller project room.

The show includes the following works, with process information, dates, and physical dimensions as background:

  • 1 acrylic and ink on canvas, 2018, sized roughly 54×44 inches, unique
  • 1 chromogenic print on glow paper, 2018, sized 53×44 inches, unique
  • 11 chromogenic prints, 2015, 2016, 2017, sized roughly 51×41, 21×18, 37×46 inches, unique
  • 1 transparency on glow paper, 2018, roughly sized 51×41 inches, unique
  • 2 archival pigment prints, 2018, sized 27×23 inches, unique
  • 3 gelatin silver prints, 2018, sized 31×25 inches, unique
  • 1 triptych of painted negatives mounted to aluminum, 2016, roughly sized 18×14, unique
  • 12 painted negatives mounted to aluminum, 2018, roughly sized 16×14, unique
  • 1 grid of 64 painted negatives mounted to aluminum, 2018, roughly sized 47×39, unique

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: The deliberate artistic combination of the two mediums of painting and photography has always been a bit of an uneasy marriage. Even going back to the early 19th century practice of overpainting daguerreotypes to add a splash of color to rosy cheeks or floral bouquets, when painting and photography get together, there is an inherent mismatch of style and resolution, where the expressive gestures of the brush wrestle with the meticulous precision of the camera. But it is this very tension that can be the spark that leads to unexpected cross-medium artistic innovation, as seen in the overpainted photographs of Lucas Samaras or Gerhard Richter, or the photographs of painted textures by Aaron Siskind.

The recent works of the Cuban-American artist Rey Parlá purposefully reside in this dissonant transition zone between the two mediums. Starting with 4×5 inch negatives, Parlá carefully overpaints and manipulates the surfaces, and then he rephotographs these compositions using a variety of processes and approaches, turning the painted textures back into photographic prints. This mixed-media recursion allows him to combine hand-crafted expressiveness with crisp photographic detail, intermingling the delicately manual and the machined.

A selection of painted negatives displayed in the gallery’s project room shows the first step in Parlá’s iterative process. Each negative is energetically overpainted from edge to edge, leaving no remnant of any underlying image. Parlá’s abstractions are intricate and intimate, with bands and blocks of color interrupted by painstaking scratched lines that range from mathematically rigorous to frenetically brash. Their diminutive size forces the viewer to get in close, where the examination of the worked surfaces becomes paramount.

These works then become source files for another round of wide-ranging photographic experimentation. In the simplest cases, Parlá has enlarged the images by ten-fold, creating massive color prints that dramatically change our perception of scale and detail. At this size and resolution, every tiny mark becomes apparent. Painterly spotting and blotting become more visible, the movement of the paint creating organic crinkles and cracks. But these mottled aesthetics are balanced by the insistence of the sharply radiating lines, which now seem to organize the abstract space into ghosts of mathematical projections or aerial maps.

But Parlá doesn’t stop with straightforward enlargement. Some of his photographs use selective cropping and rotation to isolate certain sections of the original works. Others have been printed on glow-in-the-dark paper, creating color transformations in low light. Still others take advantage of transparency paper to give the works a more plastic see through quality, and a final group converts the original color to the grayscale black and white of gelatin silver prints. In each case, Parlá is actively reworking (or multiplying, as the title of the show implies) our experience of the originals – he pulls us in to see the crumbling angles of dried cross hatching, the watery squishes of paint, or the seemingly microscopic latticework of lines, and then steps back out to call our attention to visual echoes of dystopian grids of erased cities, the bouncing lines of reflecting prisms, or even what look like faded crop circles and layered rings seen from far above.

The vitality in Parlá’s work lies in this telescoping sense of changing perspective. His abstractions seem to simultaneously operate on multiple levels, from the miniature to the monumental, and at each inverted step of resolution, we experience these abstractions differently. In many ways, these pictures become a collective study the complex properties of scale, where gesture and texture purposefully oscillate back and forth as the artist recalibrates our sense of distance.

Collector’s POV: The photographic works in this show range in price from $4000 to $8000, based on size/number of negatives; the single painting is available for $12000. Parlá’s work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Read more about: Rey Parlá, Benrubi Gallery

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